Amy Schumer comically confronts beauty bombardment head-on
I Feel Pretty
Starring Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Rory Scovel & Tom Hooper
Directed by Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein
Who hasn’t wanted to be thinner or taller, look younger, banish those zits or age spots, get smoother skin or whiter teeth, have more hair or change something else about their appearance?
In Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty, she plays Renee, a New Yorker who’s obsessed with the “beauty” that bombards her every day on the streets, in magazines and on television.
Pretty much everyone, especially girls and young women, feels that bombardment, almost all the time. It’s created a gazillion-dollar industry of products, diets, fashion, fitness fads, plastic surgery—and a toxic tide of eating disorders, bullying, body shaming and self-loathing.
Renee doesn’t feel pretty, despite all the effort she puts into her hair, her makeup and her clothes. She’s a few pounds overweight; she’s invisible to guys; babies burst in tears when she even looks at them. More than anything else, she wants to be pretty, to know what it’s like to be beautiful and have that “world” open up to her, a place she’s only imagined from the outside. She tosses a coin into a fountain and makes a wish—to be pretty.
Then Renee bumps her head in a SoulCycle spinning class, passes out and wakes up thinking she’s a total babe. When she looks in the mirror, she sees something wildly, impossibly hot-stuff gorgeous where her dumpy, doughy old self used to be.
Her wish has “magically” come true.
No one else sees anything outwardly different about her, though, especially not her standby BFFs (Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant, and Busy Phillips, from TV’s Cougar Town) or Mason (familiar character actor Adrien Martinez), her coworker in the dingy basement office where they toil over the website of a cosmetics corporation, Lily LeClaire.
But Renee, beaming with the newfound self-confidence that accompanies her perceived self-transformation, finds a whole new world unfolding before her. She meets a charming guy, Ethan (Rory Scovel, who plays principal Geoffrey Quinn on truTV’s sitcom Those Who Can’t), and lands her “dream job” as a receptionist at the gleaming, high-rise corporate office of the cosmetics company.
Soon she’s become part of the Lily LeClaire inner circle, giving no-nonsense marketing advice to the firm’s top tier, including its founder (supermodel icon Lauren Hutton) and the CEO (Michelle Williams), as the high-end company prepares to roll out a line of less-expensive products for “bargain” shoppers.
Tom Hooper (from TV’s Game of Thrones and Black Sails) plays Grant LeClaire, the hunky, globetrotting playboy brother of Williams’ character, who is likewise captivated by Renee’s straight-up poise and self-assured personality.
Schumer, who rose to prominence as a standup then with her Emmy-winning comedy series Inside Amy Schumer on Comedy Central, has always walked a sharp satirical edge. Her R-rated movies, Trainwreck and Snatched, were raunchy-ride riffs on romantic relationships and motherhood.
I Feel Pretty, written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silversteen (the team behind the movies Never Been Kissed and How to Be Single) has a lot to unpack, including themes of body image, self-esteem and self-confidence, dating and relationships, appearances, the messages of advertising and the importance of friends. Schumer, who’s spoken publicly about the many potshots she’s taken about her looks and her body—many of them disgustingly, disturbingly nasty—here boldly confronts them head-on.
Emily Ratajkowski plays Mallory, a drop-dead gorgeous woman Renee meets in her spinning class, who admits some surprising insecurities of her own. Michelle Williams, a four-time Oscar winner (for Manchester By the Sea, Blue Valentine, Brokeback Mountain and My Weekend With Marilyn), steps outside her usual dramatic comfort zone with her character—who talks in a cartoonish, baby-girl squeak—and finds some delightful shades of comedic nuance as her icy-cool fashionista is warmed by Renee’s fearless, down-to-earth charm.
Depending on how you slice it, the movie gets lots of laughs as Renee goes about living her “pretty” dream-come-true life, unaware that nothing has really changed—except her attitude about herself. It’s impossible to miss, though, that more than one person thinks she’s crazy, and someone even mentions she might need “mental health” counselling. There are a lot of people walking around in the world who think they’re someone they not, or whose view of reality has been somehow altered. Is that really funny?
Comedy is highly subjective and sometimes it makes us uncomfortable, especially when it hits too close to home. What makes you laugh might not make someone else laugh, and vice versa. I Feel Pretty made me laugh, but it also made me a tad uncomfortable, like Ethan, when Renee—wanting to show off her “hot,” sexy bod—enters a Bangin’ Bikini Contest in a bar and does an impromptu performance on stage. Was I laughing at Renee, or at Amy Schumer?
But the main message of the movie is solid: “We are real women,” Renee tells a crowd in a climactic scene. “What a great thing to be!”
In this particular moment in time, when women and girls need all the positivity and encouragement they can get, Amy Schumer and I Feel Pretty deliver the message…pretty well.
In theaters Friday, April 20, 2018